Small-scale fishers from Dwesa-Cwebe continue to face victimisation from local rangers and law enforcement officers, despite a court granting fishers access to the Nature reserve.
The overzealous policing of fishers has resulted in rising tensions between fishing communities and the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA) rangers.
On 20 July 2020, three fishers from Dwesa-Cwebe were arrested for trespassing while entering their traditional fishing ground despite the legal recognition of their customary fishing rights in this area. The landmark judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2018, legally recognised the traditional right of local fishers access to the Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve in order to carry out their livelihoods.
This judgement gave the power back to the community. It legally recognised their right to access the previously cordoned off MPA without the use of permits and fear of criminalisation. The ruling of the court acknowledged the existence of customary rights for the protection of cultural and traditional practices linked to the access and use of marine resources. The court judgement further reaffirmed that preventing fishers from accessing and entering the MPA would lead to the erasure of customary rights belonging to those communities.
However, it appears the historic judgement has not meaningfully been able to protect the exercising of customary fishing rights in Dwesa- Cwebe. The judgement has failed to grant fishing communities tangible rights that can be enjoyed and applied. Instead, the livelihoods of fishers remain under threat and criminalised.
Masifundise and the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) have sent a letter to the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the recognition of customary fishing rights in the implementation of the Small Scale Fisheries Policy (Gongqose and Others v Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Others). In this letter LRC critiqued the stagnant implementation of the policy and the judgement within the context of the recent arrests.
The full implementation of this judgement needs to come into effect in order to protect and preserve the fishing livelihoods of rural communities in the Eastern Cape. The recognition of customary rights both in the court judgement and enshrined in the South African constitution must be fully realised. The blatant disregard of these laws by local authorities is unlawful and seeks to destabilise livelihoods of many small-scale fishers.